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Voices from the Collective

Letters from readers and further discussion about the issues.
Lisa Darien

Issue #2, October 1992

To the editors:

In the 'Afterword' to her article 'MLA and the Market,' Annalee Newitz refers to information I gave to her concerning grants for graduate students in the English Department attending conferences. Since the information set forth in the article does not tell the whole story, I would like to share with your readers a more detailed account of what aid is available and how it is obtained, along with a few thoughts about the way in which this aid is distributed.

Two kinds of grants are available for graduate students giving papers at conferences: departmental and graduate division grants. For example, the English Department will reimburse graduate students up to $100 for miscellaneous expenses connected with the presentation of their papers at conferences. In addition to departmental grants, travel grants for airfare (maximum $350) are available from the Dean's Office. These grants are only given to graduate students presenting papers at conferences, not (as Annalee implied) just attending conferences, even those that serve as de facto hiring halls. As mentioned in the article, a student is only eligible for one travel grant during his/her graduate career; furthermore, the student must be advanced to candidacy for at least one year. For more information on these grants, contact the Graduate Dean's Office, 403 Sproul Hall, or see "Going to Conferences," The Graduate 6.2 (Fall 1990), reprints of which are available on the third floor of Sproul.

It is interesting to note that the Graduate Division makes exceptions to these rules for fellowship students. These students are eligible for a grant each year they remain on fellowship, whether they have advanced to candidacy or not. I have also been told that grants are routinely granted to fellowship students, i.e., the application process for them is a mere pro forma request. On the other hand, I have heard that the Graduate Division does "run out" of money, and thus non-fellowship students do not always receive the grants they request.

Two facts stand out in this discussion: first, the way in which hierarchies of graduate students are perpetuated; second, how the whole graduate enterprise runs on rumor and folklore. Graduate students both want and need to present papers at conferences — the opportunity to share one's research is invaluable, as is the luster such presentations add to one's C.V. Yet these experiences can also become "invaluable" when a graduate student cannot afford to travel to a conference. Many students may have papers accepted for the same prestigious event, but the one whose GRE's or recommendations impressed the admissions committee years before may be the only one able to finance his/her attendance. Thus the students who are initially judged to be "superior" to their fellow students are given more opportunities to increase their "superiority" (and therefore their desirability) in the eyes of future employers than students who are at first deemed less able.

The second striking factor is the way in which rumor and folklore pervade our lives as UC graduate students. From the availability of grants to the ten-minute-past hour, a graduate student is forced to rely on the kindness of his/her fellow students, professors, administrative aides, etc. When I first came to Berkeley, I read everything I could procure from the department, the Graduate Division, the bookstore, Cowell Hospital... and still I found that vital pieces of information were missing or buried in jargon and fine print. The English Graduate Association (especially Luci Herman) has done an heroic job in trying to bring forth and codify this mass (mess) in the Handbook for New Graduate Students, but essential information is often still only available to those who know whom to ask. Information has thus become another commodity (like grants) to which the biblical injunction applies:

Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. (Matt. 25:29)

I find myself questioning the fairness of an institution which seems to use these as words to live by.